Haste can lead to waste.
Sure, you’re eager to grow your user base as soon as possible, but to turn to “overly” aggressive marketing tactics, rushed plans with ZERO strategy behind, or lofty marketing spends are no-nos.
They will only lead you to short-term gains and lightning-fast crashes.
Here’s one example of how poor marketing killed a rising SaaS star.
It tells how Transpose attracted 90,000+ users and even funding fast, BUT they called it quits after just 2 years of being operational. Analysts credited the failure for several reasons, and ineffective marketing and poor positioning were included.
If you’re just starting your SaaS marketing planning, don’t rush. Pause and breathe.
In this article, we’ll show you how to jumpstart (or restart) your SaaS marketing planning.
Let’s dive into 5 straightforward steps for crafting a marketing plan that delivers! No more baseless, fancy, and randomly put-together ideas that get cricket, or even worse, meaningless noise.
Quick note: These are all based on real marketing experts’ advice. We’re all about solid strategies and tangible results here.
What is a SaaS marketing plan?
A SaaS marketing plan is a blueprint of a SaaS team’s strategic approach to promote its software product.
Usually, marketing heads oversee this. Then, they work with the team to identify tactics to drive customer acquisition, conversion, retention, and overall growth.
SaaS is subscription-based and requires ongoing relationships with customers. It’s not only about converting customers but also about keeping them long-term.
If you visualize a typical SaaS sales funnel, it does have more stages. Your goal is to guide potential customers to go through each stage.
What a typical SaaS sales funnel looks like:
This SaaS marketing funnel used in SaaS represents a simplified customer journey, from the moment they become aware of your product until they buy your product and even upgrade to higher plans.
Here’s a table of descriptions for each stage.
|Funnel stage||What happens|
|Awareness||The top of the funnel. This is where potential customers discover your SaaS solution through your marketing efforts. It could be through social media marketing, blog articles, podcasts, or paid advertisements.|
|Interest||At this stage, potential customers are genuinely interested in your SaaS product. They might sign up for your newsletter, download a free resource, or devour your website.|
|Consideration||In this phase, potential customers evaluate the solution more seriously through free trials. They might compare your offer with similar products, read case studies, and engage with more of your in-depth resources.|
|Decision||Most often, this is where the sales team enters the picture. You can still lose the warm leads here, though.|
They’re deciding to stay, stop, or switch and their decision is influenced by their actual product experience, support, pricing, testimonials, and the perceived value of the SaaS solution.
|Conversion||Hooray!!! This is when a potential customer officially converts into a paying user. This might involve signing up for a subscription plan, providing payment details, and creating an account. |
And it’s now up to your nurturing if this is the end of your story with a customer or just the beginning.
|Retention||After conversion, the focus shifts to retaining the customer and encouraging them to use your product for years. Remember, positive experiences can lead to customer referrals and upsell opportunities.|
“Make sure you don’t overlook any component of the funnel. Take the time to ensure that you have covered the top of the funnel with channels and methods that are designed to increase awareness and interest in your firm. You will not only be able to get more individuals into your pipeline, but you will also be able to drive down your acquisition cost.”— Robert Smith, Head of Marketing at Psychometric Success
Without SaaS marketing planning, you’d struggle to prioritize tasks, frustrate the team, and maybe even miss hitting your goals.
A well-structured SaaS marketing plan serves as the North Star guiding your marketing strategies throughout the customer journey so they align with your business revenue goals.
Before you start planning
Before diving into SaaS marketing planning, there’s something you should nail down first. It’s the groundwork for successful, effective, and sustainable planning.
It’s the market research.
Quick note: SaaS marketing will be different for a SaaS just launching and an established SaaS already scaling. This planning is more fitted for those startups who are just getting started.
Before anything, understanding your market is the first step.
Conducting market research for your SaaS helps you learn about your broader market landscape and whether there’s genuine demand for your product or service. That includes finding out what the market needs, and wants, and how your SaaS will satisfy those needs.
“Navigating the SaaS marketing maze was like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded! The trickiest part for me was understanding our target audience inside out. These are real people with real needs, not just data points on a graph. Make friends with your customers like they’re your favorite characters in a sitcom. Listen to their stories, their challenges, and their dreams. This isn’t just about selling your SaaS solution; it’s about becoming a part of their journey.”— Lana Gerton, Founder at lanagerton.com
Start by talking to your potential customers.
Ask them about their pain points, goals, and how they currently solve their problems. Market research involves a thorough examination of your target market, plus:
- Market trends
- Your business’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats about the market
Armed with this knowledge, you can tailor your marketing strategies to meet your audience’s needs more effectively. Analyze their feedback and determine how you can differentiate yourself from the competition.
“Identifying a unique selling proposition that distinguishes your SaaS product from competitors can be difficult. It requires a deep understanding of both your product’s strengths and weaknesses and a thorough analysis of your competitors’ offerings.”— Sahil Kakkar, CEO of Rankwatch
How to create a SaaS marketing plan?
Now, let’s get to the meat of all this. Here are 5 practical steps to help you develop a winning plan for SaaS marketing.
Step 1. Recognize your SaaS marketing advantage
If you’re asking what SaaS marketing advantage is, it’s the unique factor that will drive your overall SaaS marketing strategy.
Knowing this will help you identify which SaaS to take inspiration from. We don’t want to really create a marketing plan from scratch, do we?
This idea is inspired by Emily Kramer, a fund manager and marketer. She basically divided marketing advantage into 3:
- Product-led growth advantage → leverage users to grow your product
- Market/ecosystem advantage → piggyback on trends or other platforms via integration
- Brand advantages → use your story or popularity to drive growth through content and community
She has also identified popular SaaS teams and how they use this strategy.
But since we’re focusing on doing SaaS marketing for startups, it could be as simple as identifying if you’re product-led, sales-led, or ecosystem-driven.
It’s easy to identify this even if you’re still an MVP:
- You’re product-led if you have a simple product that users can easily explore and use on their own, mostly for B2Cs.
- Sales-led model if you have a fairly sophisticated SaaS and challenging to implement or explore. You’ll need a real person to help drive conversions.
- Ecosystem-driven are SaaS platforms that rely on integrations and partners. Examples are Slack, Shopify, and Apple/Google Play apps.
When you have this nailed down, you’ll uncover clues on which areas to focus on for your marketing:
- Product-led → product + user acquisition + inbound
- Sales-led model → outreach + ABM + BOFU SEO
- Ecosystem-driven → integrations + SEO in app directories + co-marketing
Note: Whatever the nature of your SaaS, you can even do a (personal) branding play if you’re comfortable being in the spotlight. A “build in public” route in X, like what Louis Pereira did for AudioPen.ai, is a strategic approach too.
“The biggest challenge in SaaS marketing is trying to stand out from the crowd and developing a unique brand. The overall goal is to convince people that your solution fits them better than all the other solutions, and that’s not always easy to achieve.”— John Xie, Co-Founder & CEO at Taskade
Step 2. Set goals the right way by attaching tactics for each
Goals are crucial for acquiring customers, driving growth, and building a sustainable business. But usually, goals are just wishes. Having them won’t tell your team how to achieve them.
That’s why we’ll have to attach the tactics or the “how tos” to make each actionable. Let’s adapt the framework taught by Dave Gerhardt in Exit Five.
According to him, there are 3 simple principles in every long-term marketing planning that every SaaS expert should care about.
- Revenue goal is the end goal of every business.
- Strategy to achieve that goal.
- The tactics that will support the strategy.
“My number one advice for those starting with their SaaS marketing plan is to clearly define your objectives and budget. Doing so will help ensure that you’re making the right decisions and will save time in the long run. Secondly, it’s crucial to understand your audience and their behavior before investing in any channel. ”— John Pennypacker, VP Sales and Marketing at Deep Cognition
But let’s include another step: translating that goal into an objective so it’s measurable.
Let’s give an example here.
If a sales-led SaaS company wishes to reach its first $100k ARR (goal), the plan is to close 50 deals (objective). To close clients, you’ll need to give demos. So if only 20% of demos close, you’ll want to do 250 demos.
For a sales-led company to get to 250 demos, you’ll want to develop the following (tactics):
- Publish 2 bottom-of-the-funnel comparison pages to differentiate your product
- Team up with sales in launching a 6-month ABM campaign in 3 targeted ICPs
- Build brand awareness on LinkedIn by starting a Page with a newsletter
Then, cap off the plan with a scorecard to let you visually evaluate the performance and effectiveness of your marketing department. A good example here is the Tim Kopp CMO scorecard.
You can just turn this into a more detailed document.
This plan is an excellent 6-month plan, but you’ll have to adjust your strategy after you get initial results after say, 3 months.
A great SaaS marketing plan is dynamic.
“Sketch a long-term plan (more than a quarter) but only color in the short-term plan (in-quarter). Things change so quickly in SaaS Marketing, and delivering value ASAP is paramount, so focus on short-term planning and take the advice to ‘play the long game’ with a big grain of salt.”— Joe Kevens, Director of Demand Generation at PartnerStack
Planning for a year’s worth of marketing is different when planning for the next week’s marketing.
Plus, there are always new, uncontrollable events that would disrupt your marketing. They could be political, competitor landscape, economical or biological (like Covid). So it’s good to have a long-term strategy but detailed quarterly plans.
Step 3. Divide your efforts between short-term and long-term marketing plans
Here’s a hard truth:
Marketers always get fired first. They have the shortest tenure and only stay in the job for 1-2 years — I can attest to this.
Aside from the fact that what marketing does is really fuzzy, it’s probably the unrealistic expectation of the results that causes management to say, “Marketing is not doing their jobs.”
You can do a 30-60-90-day plan. But is this still the best practice?
A “30-60-90” day plan IS NOT SaaS marketing planning
As far as SaaS marketing planning, the traditional 30-60-90 day plan often falls short.
Ninety days is barely enough for a new marketing head to fully understand the company’s ICP, products, resources, and organization. At best, it’s just a theoretical exercise with little practical value.
The comments on Dave Gerhardt’s LinkedIn post back this up.
Love this savage comment from DG’s post.
The point is:
SaaS marketing isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. It’s hard to plan everything in detail in advance when you barely have any hands-on experience working with the team, the product, and the customers.
One of the better ways to approach your SaaS marketing planning is to divide it into two:
- Short-term goals
- Long-term goals
Quick marketing wins will help you hold your authority as you try to make long-term strategies like SEO, podcast, and content marketing work.
SaaS marketing efforts for short-term goals are geared toward immediate impact.
Let’s say your SaaS is hosting a webinar, your short-term goal is the number of sign-ups for that specific webinar. Your long-term is how to translate these webinar efforts into a consistent source of leads and customers.
When talking about macro or annual SaaS marketing planning, it gets more revenue-based. Marketers should own part of the company pipeline and you can do by implementing revenue marketing.
“Start small, then iterate. Initial plans are often ambitious, but it’s crucial to maintain focus. Begin by identifying a singular goal you want to achieve, then establish your strategies and tactics around it. Once you start seeing results, learn from them. If successful, scale it; if it falls short, refine your strategies. This approach of evolving and growing based on acquired insights will lead your SaaS product to a successful marketing journey.”— Will Yang, Head of Growth & Customer Success at Instrumentl
Again, mix your tactics.
For a product-led SaaS, you may use paid advertising to generate quick traffic and conversions, but use SEO and content marketing to sustain your needed virality over time.
For a sales-led SaaS, you may start with cold DMs and LinkedIn marketing. But also tap into referral marketing to encourage word-of-mouth, acquired credibility and loyalty.
The secret lies in selecting tactics that align with your goals AND budget, while giving them a regular test-drive to discover what will work. Keep optimizing to get quick wins to fuel your long-term strategy.
“My No. 1 tip to those starting to put their B2B marketing plan together is to be realistic. It’s easy to create a plan that would cost $1million, but if you don’t have that kind of money to spend, it’s essential to know what you are working with and create a realistic marketing budget. Also, consider integrating the right mix of short-term (paid campaigns, etc.) and long-term strategies (content marketing, etc.). I realize that there’s likely a lot of pressure for performance, but to have that right mix will help teams over the long run to get their marketing to perform.”— Christoph Trappe Director of Content Strategy at Growgetter
Step 4. Pick the best marketing channels to test
Most newbie marketers jump straight into this, skipping Steps 1-3, and end up with a plan that’s as reckless as driving with your eyes closed.
“The most difficult part of creating a SaaS marketing plan is deciding which channels to focus on, as not all channels are effective for reaching our target audience, and choosing the wrong ones can be expensive.”— Matthew Ramirez, Rephrasely
From Step 1, we already have a default plan based on your marketing advantage. Let’s put it here again:
- Product-led → product + user acquisition + inbound
- Sales-led model → outreach + ABM + BOFU SEO
- Ecosystem-driven → integrations + SEO in app directories + co-marketing
At this point, you want to go more specific to see which channels are promising and you would want to spend time on this because investing on the wrong ones will be an expensive mistake.
“We utilize a mix of data, analytics, and trend prediction to identify and choose the most suitable marketing channels for Taskade, and this process usually repeats every year.”— John Xie, Co-Founder & CEO at Taskade
And to do that, you’ll need to know:
- Who your ideal customers are
- What their needs and preferences are
- How they search for and buy products or services like yours
“But I’m done with market research…isn’t this a redundant step?”
NOPE. Because market research is broader in scope and focuses on the overall industry, market trends, competition, and the larger environment in which your business operates.
Customer research is all about knowing your target audience—your future customers.
But let’s do customer research in a slightly different way, like how Kristiana Rule (content strategist) of CopyLang does it:
Building an Ideal Customer Profiles (ICPs)
Ideal Customer Profiles (ICPs) help you create a detailed description of your target customers. This involves analyzing your potential users’ various characteristics, behaviors, and traits.
Usually, it looks like this:
Ready? Here’s how to do it:
- Start with your customer’s demographics. Collect information about your ideal customer’s age, gender, location, job title, industry, company size, and other relevant demographic details.
- Learn their psychographics—your ideal customer’s interests, preferences, values, and pain points. This involves looking at their online behavior, social media engagement, and how they consume content online.
- Also, identify the specific challenges, problems, and pain points your ideal customers face. This could be through surveys, interviews, or analyzing customer support interactions.
- Add your ideal customer’s goals, desires, and objectives. This will help align your product features with their desired outcomes.
- Discover their Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) to understand the “jobs” or tasks that customers “hire” products or services to do for them. Here’s a typical JTBD:
“I’ll tell all the folks who are starting their SaaS journey that IDENTIFY YOUR IDEAL CUSTOMERS. Go deeper into their problems, needs, goals, and everything. Then work on solving their problems through your product, and you’ve won.”— Mohit from Saleshandy
How to apply the JTBD framework
- Define the core job or task your customers want.
- Engage in polls or surveys to deeply understand the job’s context. Study the circumstances, triggers, motivations, and obstacles that drive customers to seek a solution.
- Identify the different layers of needs related to the job. This could range from functional needs (e.g., task completion) to emotional needs (e.g., reduced stress) and social needs (e.g., collaboration with colleagues).
- Learn about the alternatives customers use or workarounds to fulfill the job.
- List what outcomes or results customers expect when the job is successfully done. This guides your product development to align with customer expectations.
After this step, you’ll know which marketing channel to invest in. And here are examples from the pros:
“Build a community around your software. Building a community around your program is an excellent way to get feedback on how to improve it. It also helps you find new users, advertise SaaS solutions, and uncover growth channels.”— Jan Chapman, Co-Founder and Managing Director of MSP Blueshift
Step 5. Figure Out the “WHO”
Once you’ve established your goals, strategy, tactics, and the appropriate channel, it’s time to determine WHO will execute your marketing plan.
Consider these options:
- Do It Yourself (DIY): Sometimes, it makes sense just to take on the marketing efforts yourself—especially if you’re a one-person founder or just starting with a very small team and limited resources.
- Build an internal marketing team: If you have a budget, it’s also good to build your internal marketing team. You can start with a generalist and hire specialists as your budget grows.
- Consult marketing experts: Need help in your marketing but not into outsourcing? Get help from marketing consultants or experts who can provide specialized knowledge and guidance. You might find this useful if you’re not an expert in everything marketing.
Here at Encharge, we help you find the best marketing consultants. Listed are trusted Encharge consultants and service providers so you can rest easy in all your email marketing endeavors. Our consultants can help you accelerate your ROI marketing activities, bringing their expertise to the table.
Hire agency/freelancers: Hiring an agency or freelancers is a popular choice for many SaaS companies. If you have the budget, outsourcing to marketing agencies or hiring freelancers can provide specialized marketing services.
Here’s why it’s important to not make the team an afterthought:
“Don’t tie all your marketing planning to feature releases. In SaaS, most campaigns revolve around product updates, which is understandable, but chances are also high that the product team will postpone the release to the next quarter, and you still need to deliver on your targets. I’d recommend planning most of your marketing activities based on what you — as a team — can actually control.”— Yulia, Head of Marketing at N.Rich says,
SaaS marketing planning best practices
Here are 9 best practices for SaaS marketing planning, which will help you generate revenue and growth.
1. Get a knowledge dump from your product, sales, and customer support teams.
Collect as much information as possible. Your product, sales, and customer support teams are treasure troves of insights. Talk to the people who build things and those who talk to your customers.
Sit in on demos with the sales team. Extract valuable insights from customer interactions and support tickets. Set up time with the product team to get in-depth on the roadmap and learn how your product differs from similar solutions.
2. Bring in your stakeholders from the beginning.
Why bother to bring the execs in?
Well, stakeholder involvement creates better buy-in across the organization.
Secondly, they can provide useful information about the product’s strengths and weaknesses—and that will help you refine messaging and positioning.
Last but not least, involving stakeholders tells you that you are on the right track. That your marketing plan is realistic and achievable, factoring in resource limitations.
3. Set KPIs to keep the team accountable
You cannot improve what you don’t measure, so it’s important that you tie in KPIs with your tactics.
“The most challenging part is narrowing down which KPIs we are targeting per fiscal year or per campaign. KPIs like an increase in organic traffic may be appropriate for a seasonal or short-term brand-based campaign, but not for conversion optimization because not every website visitor is automatically in the market for your niche business product.”— Virginia Shram of VKS
4. Research your competitors.
Understanding your competitors’ strategies empowers you to differentiate your SaaS offering effectively.
Review your competition’s marketing activities, then analyze the tactics they use. Pinpoint the channels they leverage and identify areas where they outperform you (but also those you are doing better).
“Studying the marketing channels used by our competitors offered valuable insights. While we didn’t merely replicate their strategies, it helped us identify gaps and untapped opportunities.”— Abhishek Shah, founder of Testlify
5. Don’t skimp on content
Yep, an important aspect of SaaS marketing planning is having on-point content.
Remember, content is not just words you hire an intern to do—they’re perspective-changing insights, conversation starters, and objection-buster assets that can increase brand awareness, generate leads, and impact your bottomline.
Done right, your positioning and messaging will elevate your product, painting it as the only RIGHT solution for prospects.
“My number one advice for those who are starting to develop a marketing plan for their SaaS is to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Additionally, it is noted that creating high-quality content that provides value to the target audience and building a strong brand identity through consistent messaging and design can also help you stand out and attract customers.”— Peter Michaels, CEO of Yeespy
6. Personalize. Always.
People don’t want to be sold to.
Blasted marketing will annoy, but try sending an offer to the right person at the right time. Selling will be easier.
Personalization goes beyond calling your email subscribers by their first name, it’s also offering the right ICPs a tailored product that will share their specific problem at the right time (usually not at the moment you sent them a LinkedIn request).
Take advantage of segmentation and personalization to deliver tailored content that resonates with your subscribers.
“The most challenging aspect of crafting a SaaS marketing plan was striking a balance between personalization and scalability. While it’s a massive advantage to tailor marketing campaigns to an individual customer’s needs, achieving this level of customization at scale can indeed be daunting.”— Fawaz Naser, CEO of Softlist.io
For powerful user segmentation and personalization at scale, a tool like Encharge is your best candidate. Segment users using attributes, tags, actions they’ve taken or not taken, their email activity, and web pages they’ve opened.
7. Test different approaches, channels, and messages.
Experimentation uncovers what truly resonates with your audience, so don’t shy away from it. Different channels demand different types of messages and tones.
So, customize your messages to each channel in which you engage with your target audience.
One powerful way to test different approaches and messages is A/B testing. And that’s simply creating two versions of an email campaign to measure which one generates better results. The testing helps you understand the best way to go, and you can use those findings to fine-tune your marketing messages.
“Tracking campaign results for optimization is another obstacle, requiring diligent scrutiny. Identifying optimal marketing channels means aligning with audience interests, budget constraints, and defined goals. Testing and experimentation are key in this dynamic landscape.”— Scott Trachtenberg, CEO of ADA Site Compliance
8. Continuously adjust strategies as needed.
Get data about you’re measurable goals and constantly monitor them. Your performance metrics will dictate if your marketing activities are performing well. Regularly reviewing your KPIs and metrics will help you identify areas of improvement and adjust your strategies accordingly.
Here are some measurable goals:
- customer acquisition cost
- lead generation rate
- conversion rates,
- churn rates
Another tip: Regularly updating your buyer personas lets you keep them current and ensure that your marketing strategy still aligns with your target customer.
“Begin with well-informed hypotheses about your target audience and potential channels, but remain open to constant refinement. Collect data, measure results, and pivot accordingly. This data-driven approach not only ensures that you’re allocating resources effectively but also allows you to fine-tune your strategies for maximum impact.”— Phil Portman, Founder and CEO at Textdrip
9. Leverage marketing automation tools.
What are the benefits of marketing automation?
Marketing automation tools can help you streamline your marketing efforts, manage your leads much more effectively, and deliver personalized experiences at scale. But most importantly, it increases sales efficiency.
If everything you do in your marketing tools is manual, chances are they’re in disconnected silos, and data doesn’t flow between them.
For example, using Encharge as your email marketing automation platform lets you connect your entire marketing stack for a streamlined marketing process. Build automated marketing campaigns using a captivating visual flow builder.
“Choosing the right automation and marketing technology is always challenging for our team. The industry is no short of tools to choose from, but ensuring that the SaaS marketing strategy remains within the budget while keeping up with the best up-to-date tech is vital.”— Nat Miletic, Owner and CEO of Clio Websites
Simplify your SaaS marketing planning
SaaS marketing success demands careful planning.
And if you just go with random marketing tactics here and there, it’ll only give you “here and there” or maybe even non-existent results.
Remember these 5 steps we detailed above:
- Recognize your SaaS marketing advantage
- Set goals the right way by attaching actionable tactics to each.
- Divide your efforts between short-term and long-term planning
- Pick the best marketing channels
- Figure out the “WHO”
Starting on your SaaS marketing journey?
A huge driver of any marketing plan is email marketing. As old as this may sound but (really) email marketing is the channel that drives the biggest ROI. So, it would be logical to prioritize it during planning.
Use Encharge to drive your MRR growth with strong automation, segmentation, and personalization. Try Encharge today!